Dubai Airports recently celebrated the first anniversary of its initiative 'We All Meet the World Differently', which forms part of the company's commitment to inclusivity and accessibility for People of Determination (POD). This two-year program is a collaborative effort with various stakeholders, placing community engagement at its core, and has been working to create an inclusive environment across Dubai International (DXB). This initiative aligns with Dubai's vision to be the world's leading disability-friendly city, ensuring a barrier-free community that empowers and welcomes all People of Determination (POD) with hidden disabilities.

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“Our success in this endeavour is a result of collaborative efforts with our strategic partners in the airport community, including government entities, airlines and service partners, to deliver a seamless experience for all our guests from kerb to boarding gate.” Majed Al Joker, Chief Operating Officer at Dubai Airports


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Following their Sunflower launch as part of their programme to deliver an inclusive and seamless travel experience for all People of Determination (POD) with hidden disabilities, we speak to Fatma Taher, Government Agenda Manager - Accessibility & Inclusivity Programme Lead at Dubai Airports, which owns and manages the operation and development of Dubai International (DXB), the world's number one airport for international passenger traffic..

From collaborating with their strategic partners in the airport community to coordinating a comprehensive communication programme, how did such a large, global airport coordinate the implementation of the Sunflower?

 

Can you tell us about DXB’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility for People of Determination?

Our program offers tailored services such as the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, which discreetly identifies and assists POD guests at check-in, passport control, security checkpoints, and boarding and, if required, grants access to an autism-friendly route. A travel planner has also been launched to provide a step-by-step visual guide for passengers with hidden disabilities to navigate the airport seamlessly.

Majed Al Joker, Chief Operating Officer at Dubai Airports, said:

“Our success in this endeavour is a result of collaborative efforts with our strategic partners in the airport community, including government entities, airlines and service partners, to deliver a seamless experience for all our guests from kerb to boarding gate.”

The program includes a bespoke hidden disability service training and awareness program curated and launched to enhance the knowledge and understanding of visible and non-visible disabilities among our 33,000 airport staff across DXB service providers. Additionally, DXB offers complimentary two-hour parking, specialised assistance at customs and immigration, dedicated taxis, and wheelchair services, marking significant milestones in DXB's commitment to making tourism accessible for all.

DXB has customised its airport amenities to meet the distinctive requirements of POD, significantly enhancing their travel experience. To introduce these new services and familiarise guests and their families with the airport environment, we have synchronised multiple 'Travel Safari' tours in collaboration with specialised centres. By offering a hands-on walkthrough, these tours guide participants through essential airport procedures, from check-in to boarding, enabling them to experience the airport environment before their travel date.

*Note: Wearing a Sunflower lanyard indicates that an individual has a hidden disability and might require extra support, or patience. Staff at DXB are trained to recognise these lanyards and provide tailored assistance, ensuring that those with non-visible disabilities receive the understanding and are given the help to effectively meet their individual needs.

Why did you join the global Hidden Disabilities Sunflower network?

We are dedicated to promoting the inclusion of all guests and creating an airport environment where everyone feels welcomed and supported. The adoption of the Sunflower Lanyard programme serves multiple purposes:

  • Increases awareness: It signals to others that the wearer may have a hidden disability, promoting understanding and patience among the public and staff.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety: Wearing the lanyard can help individuals feel more confident and comfortable in public spaces, knowing that others may recognise and accommodate their needs.
  • Assists: It prompts staff or individuals to offer additional support or adjustments without the wearer disclosing their condition, enhancing inclusivity explicitly.
  • Accessible services: It may grant access to special services or accommodations tailored for individuals with hidden disabilities, simplifying interactions and experiences
  • Empowers: It enables individuals to navigate public spaces independently with a sense of empowerment and control, encouraging participation in various activities without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.
  • Connects: Wearing the Sunflower lanyard nurtures a sense of community among individuals with hidden disabilities, facilitating connections and mutual understanding.
  • It's an educational tool: It raises awareness about the existence and diversity of hidden disabilities, promoting conversations and education about the challenges these individuals may face.
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What were your main challenges in implementing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower in an airport environment?

Raising awareness of the Sunflower and its meaning required curating bespoke content for awareness and training. Also, securing support and buy-in from various stakeholders was a crucial part of the success of our strategy.   

We demonstrated the benefits of the Sunflower through a live trial before the official launch to showcase the programme's positive impact.

Developing an operational plan tailored to the dynamic airport environment successfully addressed the need for continuous engagement with stakeholders and the entire airport community. This collaborative effort was key in designing a streamlined process that enhanced guest experience.

How have you collaborated with airlines and other stakeholders to ensure a consistent implementation of the Sunflower across the airport?

We set up working groups with representatives from the entire sector. We worked as one team throughout the process, from initiation to implementation and delivery. The success of this initiative needed a solid operational plan that considered all touchpoints and all stages of the airport journey.

Our success resulted from collaborative efforts with our strategic partners in the airport community, including government entities, airlines, and service partners, to deliver a seamless experience for all our guests - from kerb to boarding gate.

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How do you ensure colleagues feel informed, included and supportive of Hidden Disabilities Sunflower?

This is achieved through comprehensive sector-wide training that involves all frontline and office staff. We have also created service guidelines covering all the behaviours associated with interacting with travellers with hidden disabilities.

Our internal and external communication team has also played an active role in implementing targeted campaigns. In addition to that, we developed a year-long calendar of events and celebrations to enhance awareness amongst our staff.

Our L&D team has also created a portal that includes relevant information on disabilities and autism and other relevant data to ensure our colleagues have access to vital resources.

How do you ensure people visiting the airport know about the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower and where to find the products made available?

There are several ways we can achieve this. By:

  • Using our official Dubai Airports website, which is regularly updated with the latest information
  • Launching a travel planner is available on our website.
  • Implementing a comprehensive media campaign.
  • Working closely with specialised centres.
  • Participating in events and discussion forums.

Can you share any successful outcomes or positive impacts you've observed since implementing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower at the airport?

Users have told us the Sunflower lanyard positively supports them throughout the travel journey, starting by being discreetly recognised by staff across all touchpoints and making all the priority routes dedicated to passengers with the hidden disability lanyard available. The impact will continue to grow as awareness of our initiative continues to grow across the community.

Based on your experiences, what advice or insights would you offer to other airports or businesses considering implementing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower?

We highly recommend that all airports and businesses join the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme. It’s beneficial to our guests, making it valuable for improving the overall airport experience.

Launching this initiative further demonstrates our commitment to creating an inclusive environment for our guests. Joining the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower network is not just about meeting requirements; it’s about embracing inclusivity and making a positive impact.

 

Become a Sunflower Member in six easy steps

  1. If you already have a Business account, login here. If not, register now to create your account and join the Sunflower community.
  2. Visit the Memberships section of our online shop to choose the Sunflower Membership that best suits your business. Subscribe today to start accessing exclusive benefits and resources.
  3. Schedule an onboarding call with our dedicated support team*
  4. Purchase Sunflower products to support your colleagues and customers with hidden disabilities
  5. Train your entire workforce using our Sunflower training videos*
  6. Launch and promote your Sunflower Membership to your community as well as the global Sunflower network*

*access restricted dependent on Sunflower Membership level